The seeker

Exclaim! - - MUSIC SCHOOL: WHERE I PLAY -

Lby Li­isa Ladouceur ISTENING TO CHOIR OF THE MIND,

the first Emily Haines & the Soft Skele­ton record in ten years, it’s not at all ob­vi­ous how she will per­form this in con­cert. At its core, it’s an Emily-at-the-pi­ano record — and any­one who has seen her fronting Met­ric, on stage with Bro­ken So­cial Scene or per­form­ing solo knows that Haines doesn’t need much more to cap­ture an au­di­ence than her own vo­cals and per­sona. But the best songs on Choir boast cho­ruses of voices, layer upon layer of other Emilys, of other per­sonas. Glo­ri­ously ef­fec­tive on record, but on stage?

“There will be all kinds of in­ter­est­ing stuff,” ex­plains Haines, sit­ting at Gi­ant, the down­town Toronto record­ing stu­dio where Choir

was made. “The tour will be a com­bi­na­tion of the band and my solo songs and some very ex­per­i­men­tal stuff that will be bet­ter seen than talked about.”

A few weeks be­fore the al­bum’s re­lease, Emily Haines taped an episode of CBC’s “First Play” in a the­atre that gave some hints about what may be to come. On a sound stage sur­rounded by props, in­clud­ing a kitchen ta­ble, a makeup mir­ror, var­i­ous items of cloth­ing and, of course, a pi­ano, Haines pre­sented her ma­te­rial as a onewoman play, a jour­ney through her anx­i­eties us­ing pre-recorded nar­ra­tion of her in­ner voices, sound ef­fects and a va­ri­ety of scenes.

A stand­out was the ti­tle track, built around a spo­ken word per­for­mance of “Sav­itri” by In­dian poet Sri Aurobindo that holds a special place in the Haines fam­ily history and speaks to the core theme of the al­bum — fem­i­nine power. (It also con­tains a stealthy nod to Rihanna’s “Work.”)

“A com­mon prob­lem for women, or women like me maybe, is where is fem­i­nine power?” she says. “Is it re­ac­tive? Or ag­gres­sive? Through­out my life, I know I’ve worked through vari­a­tions of that. But I’ve al­ways won­dered just what is the fem­i­nine life force, and when do we get to see it, where it’s not per­verted into some sort of who­r­ish­ness, or, like, where ev­ery­body breathes a sigh of re­lief be­cause it’s ‘ap­pro­pri­ate,’ pretty mu­sic.”

For Haines, a key line in the poem, and thus her al­bum, is “She serves no aim / But labours driven by a name­less Will.” It speaks to her life as a cre­ator who knows not where the work comes from, or where it is go­ing, but that some­where all will be re­vealed.

“Ev­ery­thing [for this al­bum] came to­gether quickly, but it feels like it was for­ever in the mak­ing. It’s sort of a run­ning joke in the band that I al­ways have a pre-cho­rus in one pocket and a verse or a bridge over here, frag­ments, pro­gres­sions, car­ry­ing around in my head. I’ve kind of been writ­ing these songs my whole life. I’m al­ways try­ing to get closer to some­thing. I don’t know what. It’s just there’s some­thing that I feel that I’m go­ing to get to, within the work. And I’m just still go­ing to­wards that. I’m still hun­gry.”

“I’ve al­ways won­dered just what is the fem­i­nine life force, and when do we get to see it, where it’s not per­verted into some sort of who­r­ish­ness.”

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